In the afterglow of one of the most compelling hockey state tournaments in recent memory, arguing in favor of the boys' basketball tournament feels like arguing meatloaf over New York strip. Meatloaf has its strong points, sure, but is it really a choice?
Of course, not all hockey tournaments have been as crowd-pleasing as 2017's. And let's face it: The yearly Puck-a-Palooza has often been in danger of being more hype than substance. The endless barrage of cloying memories, silly hair videos and blustery hubris can wear the teeth of non-rink rats down to their nubs.
Hockey is Minnesota's chief athletic export, but it's such a regional sport that it's like being the best surfer in Iowa: There's not a lot of competition for that top spot.
There was a time, 50 or more years ago, when the boys' basketball tournament towered over the high school landscape and hockey was a niche sport, the domain of Iron Rangers and those fortunate enough to live close to a suitable-sized frozen pond. Williams Arena sold out regularly for the high school cagers (how's that for old-school?), with fans hoping to catch the next Jim McIntyre (Minneapolis Henry, 1944) or Bob Zender (Edina, 1966-68) or witness another Austin, Edgerton or Sherburn knock off the boys from the big city.
That buzz is gone, the victim of the multiple-class tournament and the growth of other sports.
But a new, unmistakeable buzz is rising.
A recent run of dramatic championship games, unbelievable endings and even controversy (Hopkins/Shakopee 2014 "stall" game, anyone?) has pumped energy into the tournament. Basketball's popularity nationwide is peaking and there are more opportunities to grow as a player than ever before.
The result? The talent level in Minnesota this season has never been better. There's an excellent chance fans will see many of the very best on the Target Center stage next week, such players as Champlin Park's McKinley Wright and Theo John, Apple Valley's Tre Jones, Lakeville North's Nathan Reuvers, Maple Grove's Brad Davison and Minnehaha Academy's Jalen Suggs.
The hockey tournament is still the biggest dog on the tournament schedule, but the boys' basketball tournament is a new breed capable of stealing the show.